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Ashley Monroe's Old Soul Captivates Country Music Legends

FILE - Ashley Monroe arrives at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, June 10, 2015.
FILE - Ashley Monroe arrives at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, June 10, 2015.

As a child, Ashley Monroe says she'd often start crying as she was listening to the radio because she was overwhelmed by the emotion coming from country singers like Vince Gill and Dolly Parton.

These days, those roles are reversed as those very same stars are just as enthralled with her singing and songwriting. Gill, who co-produced Monroe's latest album, "The Blade," met her when she was just 15 years old.

"I said, 'How does a kid this young have that depth to write songs?' " said Gill. "It was like she was born to write novels. It was captivating from note one, from the first songs I heard."

Even Parton, to whom Monroe often is compared, wrote her a letter in 2004 to say that the two of them had a lot in common. After all, they are both blond singer-songwriters from east Tennessee who grew up on gospel and mountain music.

"[Parton] had gotten a hold of some of my demos," Monroe said. "It was even before I had a record deal. She was saying, 'You remind me a lot of myself in the way that you phrase everything.' "

She also got support from exes Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. Just days after they announced their divorce, the two were playfully tweeting at each other about Monroe's album release.

Monroe said having Gill, arguably one of the finest country singers, help produce her last two albums has pushed her to live up to all those expectations from big stars.

"When I sing in front of him, he's such an amazing singer that it's a lot of pressure for me to sing in front of him," Monroe said. "But I think that's healthy pressure, because I think that makes sure I sing my heart out."

She's been slowly building a fan base in country music since arriving in Nashville as a teenager and has scored big collaborations, such as singing with Shelton on his single "Lonely Tonight" and as part of the Pistol Annies trio with Lambert and Angaleena Presley. Her 2013 album "Like A Rose" was a favorite of critics, but her singles fizzled when it came to radio play. "The Blade" debuted at No. 2 for country albums behind Alan Jackson.

She is a skillful interpreter of musical styles, able to move deftly from pop melodies to jazzy rhythms, and she can even make a waltz sound contemporary.

"I listen to all kinds of music, so I am not afraid to be influenced by all kinds of music, from bluegrass to the honky tonk on 'Winning Streak,' to a little more sleek on 'If Love Was Fair,' " Monroe said.

Chris Stapleton, a powerhouse singer himself and a songwriter who has penned hits for Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney and George Strait, said Monroe works extremely hard at her craft, but there's also a natural gift that comes along rarely.

"She's one of those people that is just kind of made out of music," Stapleton said.